A Bigger Hole in My Head

Sunday the 5th I sat inside watching my neighbors shoveling their driveways every couple of hours to keep on top of the snow storm. I kept telling myself that I should be out there doing the same thing – but myself didn’t want to. Myself decided to sit around in my bathrobe all day and rely on my 4×4 truck to get me out of the driveway on Monday. Later that day, I received a notification from my employer that the office would be closed on Monday. Woo-hoo, 3-day weekend. That evening I got a call from the dermatologist’s receptionist stating that the office would be opened on Monday and asking if I would be able to keep my appointment. I said “I’m going to try.” This was the appointment to remove the basal cell carcinoma from my scalp.

So Monday at 12:30 I left the house to make the 20 minute drive to the doctor’s office. My appointment wasn’t until 1:40, but I wanted to give myself plenty of time. Getting down the driveway was easy until I was stopped by the large wall of snow that the street plow made. But, I pulled forward a little, put it in 4-wheel drive low instead of high and hit the gas pedal. I made it through without hitting my neighbor’s mailbox across the street – yay! I love my Truck.

The drive was easy, just slow going. The frozen tundra (usually referred to as streets) was bumpy and hard. I could have gone faster than I did, but it felt like my insides were being jarred loose. I arrived at 1:10 to find a note on the door saying they were closed for lunch and would return at 1:00. There was another patient sitting in the parking lot (in his vehicle, of course). About 1:20 the doctor, nurse and receptionist pulled in and let us in. They said the only place they could find that was open was the Cheesecake Factory and they only had one chef working, so it took quite a while to get lunch.

Since they only had the two of us scheduled for that afternoon, it was only a few minutes before I was ushered in and given a local anesthetic on my head. Doctor made a circle with the needle and said the needle punctures would be the worst part of the procedure. I told him it didn’t hurt much at all – the most painful shot I ever received was in the heel of my foot. He agreed that that is one of the most painful spots to receive a shot. Then I sat and snoozed while the anesthetic took effect.

Doctor and Nurse came back in and he removed his coat, put on his high-powered goggles and prepped the area with iodine and covers to keep the blood off of me. It felt like that area of my head was a block of wood – I know, you’re thinking that it must have felt pretty normal then. As he worked, I could feel pulling and bumping, but no pain. I asked him how he would know if he got it all. He said he could pretty much tell by the look of the skin, but he would take a little wider area than necessary and then send the whole thing to the lab. They would do a biopsy and make sure that all the cells around the cancer were clear of cancer. If not, then more would have to be taken. As he was stitching my scalp back together, I asked him if I would have fewer wrinkles on that side of my face. He didn’t miss a beat and replied “Yes, you will look younger on this side. The hard part will be keeping your ear off the top of your head.” I love it when a doctor has a good bed-side manner* and a sense of humor.

After that the Doctor cleaned up and left the room while the Nurse cleaned my head and got me ready to leave. She said the bandage would need pressure on it for a while, so she wrapped a gauze around my head under my chin, fairly tight. She said I could remove it in a couple of hours if it bothered me. Doctor returned and asked about pain medication. I told him that I have a high tolerance for pain and normally just took extra-strength Tylenol. He gave me a prescription for some stronger stuff just in case. I asked about ibuprofen, which I prefer to Tylenol, but he said it causes more bleeding, just like aspirin. I told him that I had taken a couple of ibuprofen that morning for a headache and he replied “So, you’ll have a nice bruise then.” I was given instructions for caring for the wound and released. I thought about stopping on the way home to get the prescription filled and to look for a nice hat to wear to work (since I wasn’t supposed to wash my hair for a couple of days), but decided to go straight home because of the weather.

I felt pretty good until the anesthetic started to wear off a couple of hours later. The gauze around my head was making my ears hurt and I felt like I was choking, so I took it off and the bandage came off with it. So I got out my hand mirror and looked at the wound. Lot’s bigger than I thought it would be. I took a couple of pictures and then bandaged it back up, laughing at myself as I did. It’s hard to get your hands in the right place when you are looking through a mirror in a mirror. Tylenol didn’t completely kill the pain, but made it bearable. I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked, but I did sleep.

Next morning I got ready for work, being careful not to get my head wet. There was no way I was going to leave my head uncovered. My hair was a mess and still a little sticky (don’t want to think about with what), so I put on a scarf and went to work. There was a small crew at work on Tuesday and not one person asked about my scarf. I mentioned it to a friend and she said she just assumed my hair was flat from wearing a winter hat, so I covered it up. Really? We’re not talking designer scarf here. Wednesday morning I did break down and wash my hair, being careful around the wound. But I still put on my scarf to hide the big white bandage on my head. I’ll probably wear it all week – the stitches come out on Monday.

*Bedside manner, a term describing how a healthcare professional handles a patient in a doctor-patient relationship. A good bedside manner is typically one that reassures and comforts the patient while remaining honest about a diagnosis.

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